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Panama Papers verdict and the rule of law

Top Story

May 10, 2017

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The verdict is out and it disappointed those seeking prompt disqualification of the prime minister under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The court has spoken even if the judgement was not unanimous but as the CJP himself puts it, “Dissenting verdicts are given everywhere in the world but nowhere are they discussed as much as in Pakistan."

A judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case. The judge's only obligation is to the rule of law and honourable judges of the Supreme Court have exhibited great amount of freedom and restraint in their judgement — freedom from political pressures and restraint from jumping on the populist bandwagon with anchors, analysts and political leaders who used to shout themselves hoarse every evening in anticipation of something sensational and thrilling.

On April 20, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced that there was not enough evidence to disqualify the country’s prime minister who has been the direct target of a year-long trial after the PanamaLeaks. The court in its final verdict said that the evidence presented before the SC needed a further probe. The court has ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to further investigate the evidence.

Apparently, the job of the five-member bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa came to an end with the handing down of its judgments. The ruling requested Chief Justice Saqib Nisar to constitute a special bench to ensure implementation of this judgment so that the investigation into the allegations may be carried out.

While many would object that the SC did not settle the matter even after taking so much time and the turmoil would simmer on with the formation of JIT but as the honourable judges noted that political excitement, political adventure or even popular sentiments, real or contrived, may drive any or many to an aberrant course but “we have to go by the law and the book.” Courts of law decide the cases on the basis of the facts admitted or established on the record. Surmises and speculations have no place in the administration of justice, the ruling further noted.

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan noted: Let the law, the investigation agency and the accountability court and other courts in the hierarchy take their own course. Let respondent No. 1(Mian Nawaz Sharif) go through all the phases of investigation, trial and appeal. We would not leap over such phases in gross violation of Article 25 of the Constitution which is the heart and the soul of the rule of law.

The ruling further noted: any deviation from the recognised course would be a recipe for chaos. We for an individual case would not dispense with due process and thereby undo, obliterate and annihilate our jurisprudence which we built up in centuries in our sweat, in our toil, in our blood.

While dealing with the alleged contradiction in the prime minister’s addresses, the ruling said that the mere contradiction between his speeches and statements of Hussain and Hassan did not prove any of his speeches false or untrue. There was no examination and cross-examination of their statements so it would be against the cannons of law of evidence to use such speeches against him. The court held that neither of the speeches of Nawaz Sharif could be used against him and the question of availability of privilege under Article 66 becomes irrelevant.

Another significant ruling is that Maryam Nawaz, the future of PML-N, has emerged unscathed from the whole process and has been declared not dependent of her father by the apex court nor did the court say that she had any beneficial ownership in the Mayfair properties. This means that Article 62(1)(f) cannot be invoked.

All eyes are now on the JIT that also includes MI and ISI that shows lack of trust in civilian probe bodies which is unfortunate. Civilian matters should be probed and resolved in the civilian domain or a judicial commission could have been formed.

The apex court of the country, however, has spoken and it’s in the best interest of the nation to respect and implement the verdict in letter and spirit to strengthen the institutions of the state. It’s not about persons; it’s about the rule of law, about our future.

 

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